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Seven facts about nanosatellites

Seven basic facts about nanosatellite technology to help you become an instant expert:   

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  1. Small satellites are often quite big. Anything under 500kg is called a small satellites; under 100kg is a microsatellite; under 10 kg is a nano; and under 1kg is a pico.

  2. CubeSat technology is a standardised, cheap nanosatellite, making it easier for anyone to launch a satellite. They are 10 centimetres cubes weighing slightly more than 1Kg. They cost about £60,000.

  3. Combinations of 3, 6 or 12 Cubes can carry out commercial applications. Single cubes were developed as tools for teaching and technical demonstration. But these larger, more powerful crafts offer new kinds of opportunities.

  4. Constellations of these crafts take more frequent images than traditional satellites. One satellite can take up to 48hrs to fly back over the same site. A swarm of 50 satellites would take an image almost every hour.

  5. The images they take are less detailed than larger satellites. Small satellites cannot carry the sophisticated imaging equipment required by, for example, the defence sector.

  6. But they could still account for £970m of the £1.8bn earth observation data market in 2020. This assumes that nanosatellites take on medium resolution (over 1 metre) tasks, but not task that require higher resolution or synthetic aperture radar.

  7. Only £60m of this is expected to come from humanitarian and natural disaster response and resilience. Satellite constellations that cover large areas, taking regular images, could create a step change in monitoring, modelling and real-time disaster response.

Should more be done to support the use of nanosatellites for the public good? Nesta's six narratives about nanosatellites tries to answer this question by offering alternative ways that this public good might be realised, from economic growth to disaster relief.

Further reading: The Satellite Application Catapult’s ‘Small is the New Big’ white paper

Author

Jessica Bland

Jessica Bland

Jessica Bland

Principal Researcher in Futures

Jessica was a principal researcher in the Policy and Research team. She explored how Nesta could best support responsible development of disruptive technology. She organised Hot Topi...

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Harry Armstrong

Harry Armstrong

Harry Armstrong

Head of Technology Futures

Harry currently leads Nesta’s futures work, exploring the potential impacts of emerging technology and innovations, like Artificial Intelligence, on industry, society and the economy...

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Ryan Schecter

Ryan Schecter

Ryan Schecter

Ryan was a Government Innovation Research Analyst in Nesta’s Innovation Lab. Ryan’s work focused on the CITIE (City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship) proje...

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